Yes on practicalities, no on blame and social cohesion
Leavers say that the country would come together after a No-Deal Brexit. London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg does not know the future either – but thinks increased social cohesion an unlikely result.
I’d say that we would come together to handle the practical consequences of a No-Deal Brexit. True, people sometimes get unreasonably angry with junior staff about the failings of the organisations for which they work. But if the problems of No-Deal are anything like what some people forecast then I would expect gallows humour and solidarity to set in.
But that is about dealing with the realities of haphazard stocks in supermarkets, neighbours who have run out of something, disruptions to supplies and journeys, cancellations, delays and inconvenience.
Blame and emotions will be different.
Leavers invoke the Blitz and natural disasters
Natural disasters just happen. At most you can blame the authorities for not having forecast them or not having prepared better safety and clear-up measures. But there is no mileage in blaming Nature for a storm.
The Blitz – the WWII bombing of London and other cities – was met by a nation which had broadly accepted the need for war and understood that it would come with a price paid in “blood, toil, tears and sweat”. One can easily exaggerate the actual solidarity of the time – there was plenty of resentment, looting, defeatism and other bad behaviour. But as a general statement the Blitz Spirit is a reasonable description.
On Brexit the country is bitterly divided
No Remainer is going to be happy about the problems of Brexit. Not even those who believe that going along with the 2016 referendum is a necessary tribute to be paid to democracy actually like it. All Remainers will see the suffering as something inflicted by fools and knaves. As an unnecessary act of self-harm in pursuit of a folly of an ill-defined objective. We are going to struggle to contain our resentment at Brexit leaders and voters.
Leavers will be divided amongst themselves.
Some will see temporary disruption as a price worth paying for reaching the sunlit uplands.
Some will resent the fact that there are problems. Had they not been promised by David Davis that there would be “no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside”?
For others, pain is the point. Part of their rationale for Brexit is to toughen up the country. Or perhaps the purpose of pain and discomfort is to prove the sanctity of their cause and allow them to stand as the equals of the wartime generation.
Who will be blamed?
Remainers will blame Leavers, their leaders, their propagandists in the media, the “Opposition” leader who failed to oppose.
Leavers will blame the EU for failing to restructure itself in such a way as to please the UK, Remainers for failing to believe in the project, Theresa May’s government for not having done enough to prepare. They will believe that there were actual saboteurs.
There is no obvious meeting place for the nation to come together and heal.
Brexit is a long-term problem
Sure, the problems of the first few days, weeks, months of a No-Deal Brexit would be solved. We would get used to new ways of doing things. Chaos would become just a memory, an historical quirk like the sugar and petrol shortages, the three-day week in the 1970s.
But all sensible forecasts tell us that everything would be just a little bit harder because Brexit would create a new barrier where there was none before. Over time those tiny disruptions would add up. Brexit is not an event, a destination. It is just a step towards somewhere undefined.
Worse and far more importantly: the hardening would not just be in trade relations, but in attitudes.
The need to blame someone leads to a quest for scapegoats.
We saw that in the 1920s and 1930s when most European societies were stressed by the consequences of WWI, economic collapse, new nationalism, the rupture of old trade and social relationships, the onset of communism or the wish to resist it, new freedoms for women and oppressed minorities.
Many countries found solace and unity in identifying someone to blame: Jews, foreigners, capitalists, it did not really matter who.
The real lesson is not that that happened, or that bad people led the way, or that they attracted a few psychopaths to their cause.
It is that good people went along with it and ended up saying the same things the leaders said; and then doing the awful things implied by those words.
Where will Brexit lead
I don’t really care about GDP growing more slowly than it would have done if we Remained. Of course that matters; but not really.
What matters is that Brexit is founded on a set of values that excludes others, says that co-operation is unnecessary, defines some of us as “the people” and thus worthy of respect and others as not “the people”, looks down on other countries.
It is not new even in the UK. We have seen in Northern Ireland what happens when people decide to think and then operate on ethnic lines. In Scotland the SNP has for decades offered the same thinking as the Brexit Party offers in England.
What worries me most is not what the Brexiters will do. Rather it is how far I – like the ordinary Germans in 1933-45 - will be sucked into doing it with them.
That’s why I am campaigning to Remain in the EU, the project to build a better Europe for us all.
The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author, not necessarily of London4Europe.